Friday, August 5, 2011

General Thoughts on working at UN Vienna

The time here went by way too quickly for me to really have a full understanding of everything that happens within UN.GIFT, much less at the Vienna International Center (loving referred to as the VIC.) However, I’d like to just make a few notes on things that I loved here and things that drove me nuts, first within the UN.GIFT team, then the VIC.
I admired and appreciated the team camaraderie and felt honored that they invited me into their little family. Livia, one of the 4 full-time staff members, is preparing for a Tuk-Tuk race across Sri-Lanka with two of her friends which will raise money for human trafficking victims, of course the entire team got involved in helping her prepare a promotional video for the race fund-raising and are all supportive of her adventure even though its being done on her personal time. Which, by the way—how awesome is that? Claudia, a lovely woman from Italy on the team, invited me to play touch-rugby with her—a sport she picked up when stationed in Serbia. I actually really loved it, despite my complete lack of hand-eye coordination. Siria had patience with my horrific Spanish and for my slow learning with web-page design—she has no clue how proud my high school computer teacher would be of me now! Last but not least, Sandra—always had a cup of coffee, words of advice and funny anecdotes about her daughter, all of which brightened my days in the dark VIC corridors.
What drove me crazy: WebCMS programming…yeah…ummm…Zan and web-design do not really mix (as you can tell from my completely boring non-techy blog.) However, eventually I got into a rhythm…plus, it gave me a chance to do something that I love: write!
It KILLED me that the more I understood/learned about how UN.GIFT is funded/how little it receives that despite the craziness of completely unknown sources/amounts/consistency of financial support that the team still managed to continue achieving so much…it just seemed so inefficient to never know for sure where, when, how, and how much money would be available, always programming on the assumption that there wouldn’t be anything more coming or from which member states, etc….so hard to watch. I suppose this is just how all UN agencies work, yet, it still just is crazy to me.
The VIC:
Okay, just a quick physical description: the VIC is a group of buildings that are all shaped like two half moons back-to-back…observe: )(. They are all different heights and all are somehow connected. The idea was to ensure that ALL offices had windows and that close to none of the buildings would cast a shadow on other parts of the complex to enable the maximum amount of natural light possible. Sounds lovely, right? Ummm…no. this resulted in a very confusing layout, I got lost literally at least twice a day all the way up to my last day on which I actually got lost four times (an explanation of why is coming…) Furthermore, this genius design also meant very narrow hallways and stuffy offices that smelled like either BO or burnt stale coffee pretty much all the time.
I loved how cheap the food was in the cafeteria, I loved the really funny bartender (yes there was a bar at the UN and yes, the drinks were all subsidized, yay!) I loved walking in the hallways and hearing a half dozen languages at any given moment. I loved the diversity of people, cultures, clothing, ideas, opinions, etc. SOOOOO…I suppose the awful building is okay, since it was full of things I fell in love with.

That’s all for now…I’m in Moldova now, I’ll write more about that soon 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shakti Samuha Honored by U.S. State Department

One of the UN.GIFT Small Grant Facility recipient organizations was recently honored by the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Shakti Samuha's founder member & current board member Mrs. Charimaya Tamnag (Anu) was awarded with the "2011 Hero Acting to End Modern-Day Slavery Award" during the release of the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, at the State Department in Washington.

Shakti Samuha is the first organization in Nepal to be established and run by survivors of trafficking.

In 1996, 500 girls and women were rescued from slavery in Indian brothels during widespread police raids. Among these were 148 Nepalese girls and women. These women were then locked away in remand homes in India, where conditions were as bad as - if not worse - than prison. The Nepalese government was reluctant to bring the women back to Nepal, claiming they would bring HIV into the country with them. In the absence of Government support, several NGOs took the lead in returning and rehabilitating the girls.

Sadly, even in these rehabilitation centers, the women's treatment did not help to restore their self-esteem and basic human rights. It was only after months had passed and the women were given training in their rights, that they realized they were not to blame for being trafficked. The women felt it was time to claim their rights so they set up Shakti Samuha.

Shakti Samuha began in 1996 and was registered in the Kathmandu District Office of HMG in 2000. Since 1996 they have been organizing and empowering returning trafficking survivors by providing shelter, legal aid, vocational training and counseling.

Shakti Samuha has also set up Adolescent Girls Groups based in the poorest communities in order to pass on the message about the dangers of trafficking. Now the organization is reaching out to rural districts where trafficking is prevalent, helping to keep women safe and make a united stand against the traffickers.

Domestic Violence, Exploitation in Marriage, and the Foreign-Bride Industry

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that the human-trafficking industry is the second largest criminal industry in the world, with $32 billion in annual profits. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 2.3 million victims annually, while the U.S. State Department puts the figure at 12.3 million. While enforcement of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the U.N.’s Palermo Protocols can prevent some crimes, stopping exploitative practices that operate under the guise of the foreign-bride industry remains particularly challenging.

A 2011 report published in the Virginia Journal of International Law, “Trafficked: Domestic Violence, Exploitation in Marriage, and the Foreign-Bride Industry,” examines the commonalities behind two major “bride markets” — the trade from North Korea to China, and Internet-based international pathways to the United States — and looks at common sociological threads. Based on those findings, the report makes legal recommendations.

The report’s key points include:

Nearly two-thirds of the thousands of North Korean refugees hiding in China are women; up to 80% are trafficked into marriages and exploitative labor.
Though women fleeing North Korea are considered refugees under international law, China regularly deports them. Traffickers and Chinese grooms exploit these threats of arrest and deportation and leverage “intimidation, geographic and cultural isolation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, and threats against their children.”
According to the U.S. government, in 2009 alone 27,754 foreign fiancĂ©es and 15,419 foreign spouses were admitted to the United States on “K1” or “K3” visas.
Up to 50% of such women likely met their husbands through international marriage brokers.
U.S. grooms are “typically white, educated, politically or ideologically conservative, economically and professionally successful, and in their late 30s and 40s.” Most brides come from economically disadvantaged origins, in places such as Eastern Europe, Russia or the Philippines.
Brides found through international marriage brokers face high levels of domestic violence. They are vulnerable because of their “isolation, citizenship status, economic dependence, and the psychological use of her children.” Due to the structure of U.S. immigration laws, the process remains subject to the husband’s control.

The author notes that proponents of the foreign bride industry often cite principles such as the rights to privacy and liberty. The evidence suggests, however, that the process often involves “fraudulent promises of employment or ‘happy marriage’” and constitutes trafficking under international law.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Back in the USSR…err…Moldova

Stepping off the plane in Chisinau for the first time in 2years, I immediately felt a mixture of nervous emotions mixed with elation. Luckily, somehow playing the role of semi-tourguide helped to suppress both sides of my initial reaction. I still haven’t fully processed the whole experience, but maybe by the time I’m done writing this blog entry I’ll have a better idea of how I feel about it.
This trip to Moldova was to help prepare a January Term course that will be offered through the Harvard School of Public Health. The course will take 15 Harvard graduate students from different programs to London, Italy and Moldova to study the humanitarian response to human trafficking. The course will be looking at London as an example of a destination country, Italy as a point of transit (as well as destination) and Moldova as a basic example of a source country. Our assignment on this trip was to identify organizations, individuals and government agencies with whom the students could meet in January.
Alia and Anaide—the two fabulous women in charge of the logistics for the J-term course—were delightful company in Moldova. We walked outside and found our driver, Constantin, waiting for us. After we arrived at the Hotel, we got changed and left almost immediately for the 4th of July party. It was strange being at the annual party for the 4th time but first time not as a Peace Corps volunteer. I saw all the PCVs but only recognized a couple of them from the training group that I worked with right before leaving for Belize. We met up with Vika who was a great help in sorting out a driver and helping us with other small logistical questions.
“Work” started on Sunday with a tour of the wine cellars at Cricova…but the real work started after the tour with our first interview and then went non-stop until Friday afternoon. Each day we had up to 5meetings with NGOs, Gov’t officials, journalists, doctors, lawyers, etc. who are involved either directly or tangentially with the issue of human trafficking in Moldova. About half the meetings needed translation from Romanian/Russian into English. It was a definitely a test of my language skills, and of course, with the Russian we called in extra help.
At the end of every day we had to debrief the meetings, recording the take-aways, gaps, tensions, and general observations. In general, the process taught me an extraordinary level of respect for field researchers—and also convinced me it may not be a path I’d necessarily choose for myself in life. Although, as Alia gently pointed out, it may have just been difficult for me given my highly emotional connection with Moldova.
For me, the two most impressive meetings were towards the end of the week. On Thursday evening we met with a lawyer who takes on multiple human trafficking cases each year pro-bono. It was very clear that, for her, it was an effort straight from her heart—but also that it had really affected her, she was at times seemingly paranoid even to be discussing the topic in public. On Friday afternoon, our very last meeting of the week was with an organization that runs a shelter for female victims of trafficking, specifically targeting women with children or who are pregnant. The people who run this shelter truly inspired me and I hope to somehow maintain communication with them and find ways to support their work.
It was difficult for me to not automatically put all the interviews into a cultural lens of my background with Moldova—and I really appreciated the debriefing sessions with Alia and Anaide who were able to keep things on a purely analytical level, helping me to put an emotional distance between myself and the stories we’d heard each day.
Because the students are supposed to experience everything first-hand, without the influence of a third-party filter, I don’t think I can write in too much detail the conclusions I reached at the end of the week. However, I think it suffices to say that I am beyond grateful that I had the opportunity to be part of this trip, and I look forward to the projects/reports that the students develop. I truly believe it can be a help to Moldova and to the people working there to end human trafficking.

Giving a Shout out to the 12 Small Grant Recipients

UN.GIFT piloted its Small Grants program in 2009, with recipient projects having an implementation period in fiscal year 2010-2011. This week I was asked to use the interim reports from the 12 recipient organizations to assess the outcomes of the program.
I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but my favorite by far was Solidarites—a Brazilian NGO who worked with victims of trafficking to help them tell their stories. Despite being printed in Portuguese, I dedicated the translation time (thank goodness for google translate) in order to read the report on the situation of women in Brazil that was written by the victims themselves. Its difficult to say that Solidarites is my favorite, because the work being done by all 12 organizations is phenomenal.
The broad range of approaches to awareness raising, prevention, legal aid, and direct victim assistance was interesting for me to read through. It seems that despite major differences in culture, region, and organizational structure, that there are common threads between the success stories.
Some of the common threads: economic and emotional empowerment of at-risk individuals and victims; collaboration and transparency with law enforcement; distribution of materials in order to raise awareness of available services, etc.
Unfortunately, it seems that each of these organizations relies nearly exclusively on external donations and questions of sustainability do not seem to be a priority.

OSCE Conference on Human Trafficking

As part of my internship with UN.GIFT, I had the opportunity to attend the OSCE’s 11th annual Conference on Combating Human Trafficking. Over 300 member-state delegates, NGO representatives, academics, and law enforcement officials attended the conference in the Hofburg in Vienna.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in the first session, put on my translation headphones and opened my notebook to take notes. Two days later, I left feeling unclear on the purpose of the conference, but with a peaked interest on specific topics…and with lots of Spanish practice (having set my headset to Spanish to make the long sessions more interesting.)
The unclear bit: it seemed that it was such a huge opportunity to produce some kind of clear outcome—yet, ultimately at the end of the two days everyone simply said goodbye and went home. I remain curious why there wasn’t break-out sessions to produce a list of best practices or some sort of joint statement, or SOMETHING…It was likely the largest gathering of people at all levels in the fight against human trafficking, yet a large majority of the conference was spent making vague political statements rather than solid discussion of methods that produce success, common challenges, etc.
The bit that peaked my interest: A theme throughout the conference was a call for data-driven programming. It seemed that everyone agreed that there needed to be a more strategic approach to combating trafficking and that key to this would be having better ways of measuring outcomes.
Overall I was really glad that I attended the conference, and very happy to have made contacts with amazingly inspirational individuals who have worked in the field since before the Palermo Protocol.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Harvard Research Program on Humanitarian Response to Human Trafficking

This is the link to the project's website:

I'm working on the UN.GIFT coordination end :) which is a great opportunity for me to link what I'm doing here in Vienna with ongoing research back in Cambridge.

Alia and Anaide are both amazing, and if you want to keep updated on all their efforts, you can follow Alia on twitter.